Last year in the Cannes 2014 issue of World of Shorts, we asked our good friend Domenico La Porta – the editor-in-chief of Cineuropa – to share his thoughts on the benefits of crowdfunding.
With the appearance and organisation of online crowdfunding, creators from all walks of life now have a better chance to see their project come to fruition. But what are the secrets to a successful crowdfunding campaign?
The best-known example of crowdfunding is Barack Obama’s latest campaign in the USA, which was funded by the general public to the tune of $150 million. This was a singular, historic event: it wasn’t just rich industrialists who brought about their candidates’ victory, but also the hundreds of thousands of people who donated an average of $80 over the internet to support the first Afro-American to lead the USA.
Crowdfunding is therefore a lever that allows the general public to provide collective financial backing to an idea or a project that particularly appeals to them. Whether the aim behind a crowdfunding campaign is to create an artistic work or something completely different, it will have to be organised, financed (i.e., it will require time or money investment) and circulated strategically: exactly like an electoral campaign would be!
This is not a new phenomenon. In 1958, John Cassavetes funded his debut film (Shadows) thanks to the public’s contributions, following several radio appeals: Pledge a movie that resembles you! he proclaimed. The central crux of his campaign was identification, but there are others, and you will have to find the one (or ones) for you, depending on your project. If you are creative when drawing up your objective, the crowds will reward you as you reward them for their pledge.
Often, people opt for a crowdfunding platform after having been encouraged by all the success stories, which obviously go viral on the social networks, but these numerous cases in point are never just based on a lucky break. A number of relatively weak projects (artistically speaking) have filled their coffers with crowd-sourced funds thanks to campaigns that were both inventive and thorough. Whether the fundraising period lasts four weeks or six (for a target of over €50,000), it is unrealistic to think that you will be able to take care of it by yourself. It is vital to understand that the worldwide web never sleeps and that you must find the means to keep the campaign running 24 hours a day. You need a team. As in politics, you will need a campaign manager: a person who has an expert knowledge of the inner workings of the machine (social networks, seeding, tools, structures and strategies, address book, press relations, etc) and who is happy to tinker with the rules of the game. Together with your campaign manager, you will assemble your staff of volunteers, as well as people who are keen on and interested in your project and in its desired result. Is it perhaps a case of assigning them a role in the fledgling film? Or getting them to help with creating the soundtrack? The staff will always be made up of a hard core who will be paid further down the line and a group of volunteers whose only wage will be the satisfaction of seeing your project succeed. After being bolstered by the first group, who will invest both time and money in your campaign, you will be able to tap into the second (close friends and family members) in order to amass a promising-looking budgetary base that will enable you to win over the third group: the crowd.
In general, six weeks of fundraising (the launch phase) on a platform such as Kickstarter will have been preceded by a period of the same duration aimed at preparing material, organising contact lists, and a strategy for the fundraising (the pre-launch phase), and three weeks will then have to be set aside following a successful period of fundraising (the post-launch phase) for thanking the backers, sending out the rewards and writing your own success story in order to then be able to circulate it as much as possible. This last phase is too often ignored by the project helmer, who, on one hand, has run out of steam once the launch phase is over, and on the other hand, has the false impression that he has achieved his goal: he has got the funding. But crowdfunding does not only have a financial benefit, and especially in the case of a film, it also has a second and even a third goal.
Once the money has been raised, it is essential to satisfy a guaranteed initial audience made up of the entire group of backers (second goal), and within this group are potential ambassadors for your project who will have to be turned into promoters (third goal). We could almost call them sales agents, marketing agents and distributors who will be supporting the film that they contributed to, as if it were their own. Their backing at the very first stage of the project will make them more highly valued within their own communities, and they will boast about it in order to enable them to rise up the group ranks. People from the crowd (group three) want to achieve the status of friends of the artist (group two). Even the first group (staff) may open up to them, should another project be made in the future by the same artist. Organising this transfer is an art form that will require at least as much creativity as the writing and the making of the film if not more. You can be a talented director or producer, and have a superb project, and yet miss out on your crowdfunding because of second-rate campaign management.
So, just like a gifted cinematographer, a brilliant actor or animator, or a jaw-dropping composer, it is absolutely in your interest to join forces with a campaign manager who will be the flamboyant architect devoted to the projects success, and not a mere handyman who will have to take care of the crowdfunding on top of everything else. Remember that Obama would not have succeeded with his famous saying “Yes, we can!” without the sum total of all the “Yes, I can!” said by individuals to the best of their abilities, who actually truly could!
For more articles from this World of Shorts issue, flip through the magazine here: